Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Pair of Sleeping Beauties

I caught Dawn and Drifter taking naps at the same time this afternoon, and even managed to get some pictures of the sleeping beauties:


Friday, October 28, 2011

Dawn Does the Floating Exercise, and Drifter and Pie Updates

Dawn's feet were a bit more sensitive today, although she was fine on soft surfaces.  We rode only at the walk in the sand arena.  We did more work on her standing still for mounting - it didn't take very long today for her to stand still.  Then we did some lateral work - leg yields, alternating directions, and some turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand and side pass.  My job was to stay quiet and oh so soft with my asks - Dawn always lets me know if I do too much - and her job was to stay calm and not rush.  We both did pretty well.  Since we were doing pretty good with it, I decided to start to put it all together and we started working on the "floating" exercise.  This involves traveling in a straight line, always traveling in the same direction, first walking forward, then doing a turn on the forehand, while still moving forwards, into side pass, then a turn on the haunches into backing, then another turn on the forehand while moving into side pass with the horse's head facing the other way, then another turn on the haunches, and voila, you're moving forward again.  All the rotations are either to the right or the left, and the objective is to have it just float, with no rushing or excitement - just smooth and soft.  Today Dawn and I were somewhat disjointed and jerky, with the movements still pretty separate and not yet flowing together, but she's got the idea and I expect she'll be thinking about it - it's likely to be considerably better the next time we try.  We finished up with a bit of shoulder-in off small circles, and some standing around work.

I put Drifter on the lunge line again to see how he was doing - he was worse today - the trot was very "hitchy" and he was really dragging the toe of the left hind.  I only had him trot a few steps in each direction - it didn't seem to bother him at all to trot, but I'd seen what I needed to.  We did ride for a bit at the walk, but didn't do too much - although he was sound, he felt somewhat weak behind and I didn't want to push things.  He and Pie will be getting at least the next four days off in any event - I'm tied up tomorrow and then I'm not supposed to ride them on days three, four and five of their Oroquin-10 treatment as they may have more neurological symptoms on those days.

Pie was pretty good when I rode him today - he's walking and trotting sound although he's fairly sluggish.    We went on a short trail ride with Charisma, and Pie led most of the way.  His demeanor and behavior were normal the whole day until evening, when he had another fairly serious colic attack - he was lying down flat and groaning, according to our p.m. barn lady.  She got him up and walked him for a bit, and then he felt fine again as if nothing had happened.  This may be a result of the treatment, as it contains an immune system stimulant, and if he already has enlarged lymph nodes, this may have irritated them.  We'll have to see what happens each day, but we'll be keeping an eagle eye on him.

New EPM Page

I've created a new EPM page.  It has links to a couple of useful sites, and to my posts on EPM.  I will also update the page as Pie and Drifter undergo treatment - today is day one of the Oroquin-10 paste.  Keeping fingers crossed . . .

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three Rides and Watching Drifter Go

It was fairly cold and windy today - wind chills in the mid-40s - although the showers held off until late in the day.  I rode all three horses and we had an enjoyable time.

Dawn was somewhat careful, although not obviously sore, on hard or rocky surfaces, so we only worked at the walk in the arena.  But we got a lot done anyway - shortening/lengthening work, starting to work on a more collected walk as well as a more extended free walk, some pole work - Dawn is gradually getting over her pole phobia and went over them a number of times today with only a few times where she hesitated or rushed.  And then we did some spiral in/out work and then started some shoulder-in work, starting with a small circle touching the rail and then continuing on down the rail for a few strides with the same bend.  And mixed in with the work, we also did some standing around - she did this very well today - Dawn is such a quick learner and once she knows what you want she's happy to oblige.

Drifter had felt so odd at the trot yesterday that today I put him on the lunge line for a few minutes to see what was going on.  Most of the time he was noticeably short-striding with the right front/left hind pair, although there were times he wasn't.  Part of the short-striding was him slightly dragging his left hind toe and part was a lack of push as the foot moved back.  I'd already gone over him carefully - he's not sore, hot, swollen or tender anywhere, including the left hind leg and foot.  This sort of toe-dragging apparently is quite common with EPM.  He's also started taking up a "parked-out position" on the cross-ties, which is also a common EPM symptom - he stand will his back legs fairly far apart and somewhat behind his body, with his front legs fairly close together.  But his walk under saddle is still just fine, so we worked today at the walk and had a good time - just working on shortening/lengthening, poles and some leg yield work.

Pie's gaits are pretty good right now, although somewhat stiff.  We did some walk and trot work in the arena and then took a short tail excursion.  He is very crabby though, on and off, with lots of ear-pinning and ugly looks, although he's fine for grooming.

Tomorrow morning Pie and Drifter start their 10 days of pasting with Oroquin-10.  They'll also be getting some Banamine on days 3, 4 and 5 to help with any inflammation that may develop due to EPM organisms dying off.  I'm supposed to keep a careful record of any changes in their symptoms or behavior, or anything else I note, for the benefit of the researchers.  Here's hoping that things go well and the treatment, plus the 90-day follow-up feed treatment, does the trick for both of them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Windy and Cold With Three Horses

I spent a good bit of time on the phone this morning talking to various vets on the phone.  This included Dr. Ellison from Florida, who's the lead research on the new testing and treatment clinical trials for horses with EPM that I mentioned in my prior post.  We've ordered the treatments for Pie and Drifter - 10 days of pasting with Oroquin-10 - a formulated mixture of decoquinate and levamisole (an immune system stimulant) - plus a 90-day follow-up decoquinate feed additive in a lower dose.  We had some question about whether Pie should receive levamisole considering his weird immune system responses recently, and Dr. Ellison recommended we go ahead as it should be safe for him, so that's what we're doing.  I've updated my regular vet, and also have a call in to the vets at U. Wisconsin to update them.

We're hoping to start both Pie and Drifter on their treatments on Friday morning.  I'm instructed to give them prophylactic Banamine starting on the evening of day two and running through the morning of day five, to deal with any inflammation that is caused by EPM organisms dying in response to treatment.  I'm also not to ride them during that period, or any other time where they don't feel right - neurological symptoms may worsen for a time during days 3 to 5 of treatment.  I'm keeping fingers crossed that this will do the trick for both of them on the neurological issues, and fingers double crossed for Pie that this will prove to be the cause of his digestive problems.

I rode all three horses today, despite the wind and cold - I kept telling my self that in January this would be considered a balmy day - the wind chill was in the low 40s and it was threatening to drizzle for most of my riding time.  Despite the wind and cold, all three horses were excellent.

Dawn is now a barefoot girl.  She lost a shoe yesterday, and I decided to have our farrier remove the remaining front shoe.  I don't ride her on the trail, with its very hard surfaces and rocks, and she should cope well in the pastures and sand arena.  For a thoroughbred that's probably been in shoes since she got her first racing plates put on around 18 months old, she's got pretty nice feet - I should take some pictures. Her frogs and caudal structures are well-developed in her hinds, and she's got decent concavity in those hinds - she's been barefoot behind for a number of years.  The fronts are pretty well-shaped and the angles are good and her heels aren't under run, but the soles lack concavity, the sulci are not as deep as they should be, and her heels aren't as well-developed as they should be and are somewhat contracted.  I had my farrier just take off the shoe - no trimming at this point.  We'll let her feet adjust and grow a bit and begin to build new frogs and heels before any trimming.  She's completely sound barefoot, even walking on concrete, so I rode her at the walk in the arena for a bit.  We also worked on some of our lateral work - turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand and side pass.  And we also did some mounting work - after being a horse who reliably stood still for mounting, she'd developed an odd habit of taking a step (or more) backwards when I put a foot in the stirrup.  I worked with her on this for a bit, circling her around the mounting block when she didn't stand, and praising her when she did, starting with just putting my foot in the stirrup and not mounting.  She figured it out - Dawn always figures things out - and stood very nicely.  We'll see if that sticks.

Drifter was next.  He was very calm and responsive.  His walk work was fine and he felt good at the walk.  Not so good at the trot - I'd describe him as "funky" behind - just plain weird - and it was significantly worse than the day before, so we only did a little bit of walk/trot/walk transition work.  I checked him over for any signs of injury or swelling - absolutely nothing - his legs were tight and cold all the way up and it's not a hoof issue.  I suspect the EPM is the cause of this odd hind end weirdness.  We also did some work on turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand and side pass - he did excellently on all three in both directions.

Pie came next.  We had a short arena session with some nice walk and trot work - he was moving out pretty well and the trot was nice and even.  We also did our lateral work - turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand and side pass - and he was excellent too - all three horses did great at this today.  Then we took a brief trail excursion.  I did get a call from our p.m. barn lady that he seemed to be having a bit of a digestive issue - he was standing in his paddock not eating with his ears back, and pinned his ears and shook his head at her when she went to check on him - but a few minutes later he was back eating again at his hay, which means he was feeling better.  I'll be going by the barn later to do a bed check and will see then how he's doing.

Despite the cold, wind and threatening rain, it was a good day with horses.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

News Alert! - Now I Get to Learn About EPM . . .

Several weeks ago, Pie received a thorough neurological evaluation from our vet/chiropractor - I had her out when he seemed (incorrectly) to be over his repeated colic attacks, in the hopes that she could work on his continued body stiffness and lack of free movement.  I also had mentioned that he seemed to be having trouble when I picked his right hind - he didn't want to keep it up, which probably meant that he didn't want to continue weighting his left hind.  And he had several small interference injuries, where he had stepped on the inside of his left hind with his right hind when moving around the pasture, which meant the left hind wasn't getting out of the way quickly enough. When she did the neurological exam - which was very thorough - she found some anomalies in his cranial nerve responses and and also his spinal nerve reflexes - these tests involved using a pen to press on various points on the face to see his responses/reflexes, and running a pen down both sides from poll to tail to see what responses were triggered.  His backing and the tests involving turning in a small circle were pretty normal, but one of his foot placement tests - where the foot is moved to an unusual position to see if the horse moves it back - was highly abnormal - if she placed his left hind behind his right hind, he would just stand there for a very long time - I had noticed this before and in fact one time he actually caught his left hind behind his right hind and had a lot of difficulty disentangling himself.  She did only a little chiro work on him - to make him feel happy about her visit - since she thought it wasn't a chiro problem and I would just be wasting my money.

She suspected the early stages of EPM - here's a site with a lot of good information about it - and sent blood off for the new, much more accurate ELISA test that's in clinical trials - here's some information about the test and new treatment.  And it came back positive for all three antigen strains that occur in horses, but the positive numbers were only just into the range of likely active infection, and then we were off to U. Wisconsin to deal with Pie's repeated colic attacks.  I decided to wait until his liver enzyme numbers were pretty much back to normal in order to do a retest - one of the clearest signs of active EPM infection is a significant increase in the titer - a doubling or more.

I did a post a while ago about EPM, and the new test and treatment protocol that are in clinical trials.  EPM is a disease which horses get by consuming hay or grass, or drinking water, that are contaminated by the urine or feces of infected opossums.  Horses do not show clinical signs until the organism passes the blood/brain barrier, when it infects the central nervous system.  Some horses are exposed and never become infected.  Until recently, the only definitive test for it has been a spinal tap, and many horses have developed severe symptoms - falling, tripping, severe gait abnormalities, muscle wasting and/or difficulty chewing and swallowing - before being diagnosed.  There are other diseases/conditions that can cause similar neurological symptoms.  The older tests, other than the spinal tap, could not distinguish between exposure and active infection.  Until recently, there were few available treatments, and the most recent approved treatment that was available is very expensive and possibly not effective against all strains of EPM that infect horses.

I had our vet/chiropractor come back about two weeks after Pie's previous test to retest him - his liver enzymes had normalized.  In the interim, he had gotten better about picking up his right hind, but now the right front was a big problem for him - he clearly didn't want to stand with that foot off the ground.  When she evaluated Pie again, his hind foot placement tests were now abnormal for both hinds. And I had asked her to do some chiropractic work on Drifter - he'd started feeling "funky" behind - not off, precisely, but as if the "push" wasn't quite there.  I suspected the left hind based on how it felt and rode.  It was very subtle, but something wasn't quite right.  We observed him trotting at liberty in the paddock, and as I suspected, it was the left hind.  It was so subtle that it didn't even qualify as "off" and certainly not as lame, but it was there - he would bring the left hind forward normally, but then the backwards push was just slightly weak - that's what I'd been feeling.  She did a full neurological exam on him, and everything was normal, except for his backing - he tended to drag his toes behind (in fact he does this sometimes when moving forwards), and his hind foot placement test - he had difficulty correcting incorrect foot placement with both hinds.  We decided to send his blood in for the EPM test - the signs were very subtle but he clearly had no soft tissue issues going - no swelling or heat and the "offness" was extremely subtle - and his recent hock x-rays were completely normal.  As with Pie the last time she visited, she didn't do a full chiro treatment on Drifter as she felt it would have been a waste of time and my money.

Since Dawn was handy, we did a neuro exam on her too, and to quote my vet/chiro, Dawn was "appallingly normal".  So we didn't bother to do a blood test on her.  Opossums are very common in our part of the world - I see them often at night - but so far Dawn seems to have escaped, which is surprising, considering her propensity to strange diseases/conditions.

The results of the blood tests were interesting:  Pie's original results were phenotype SAG1-20, SAG5-20 and SAG6-40.  One, 5 and 6 are the three strains that infect horses.  The SAG6 story is complicated - focus on the SAG1 and 5 results.  Pie's second test - about two weeks later - SAG1-8,  SAG5-40 and SAG6-40.  Drifter's only results:  SAG1- 4, SAG5-40 and SAG6-40.  The cutoff for active infections is 16, and a doubling of a titer between two tests two to four weeks apart is highly indicative of an active infection.

Both Pie and Drifter have active EPM infections with strain 5, and Pie's is accelerating as shown by the doubling of the strain 5 titer.  If Pie was exposed to strain 1 - this may even have happened before I got him - he may have cleared the infection on his own as shown by the reduced titer - this is good news as strain 1 tends to have the worst symptoms.

The good news is that both horses can be treated, using the new trial treatments - which have very low toxicity and have produced good results in almost 200 horses so far - and the results of treatment should be to clear all infection.  I'll be calling the pharmacy tomorrow to confirm the orders our vet/chiro called in today, and we'll be off on our treatment path.  Drifter will get the trial 10-day paste treatment of Oroquin-10 followed by a 90-day feed treatment as a follow-up.  Oroquin-10 is a compound of a higher dose of decoquinate plus an immune stimulant. Because we're concerned that Pie's immune system may already be somewhat compromised as evidenced by his reaction to his vaccinations and the lumps in his abdomen, which may be enlarged lymph nodes, he'll be on only the 90-day treatment - decoquinate without the immune stimulant - where the medicine is added to his feed.

With the benefit of hindsight, some of Pie's other symptoms/behaviors may be related to EPM as well - his constant yawning and moving his jaw from side to side, the odd gulping noises he would make from time to time - effects on chewing and swallowing are common with EPM - his sluggishness and reluctance to move freely, and some recent head shaking and head rubbing that may indicate head discomfort.  We're hoping, perhaps against hope, that his digestive problems and the abdominal lumps may be related to his immune response to EPM and not to something more sinister, but only time will tell with that.

When they're in treatment, I can keep riding both Pie and Drifter provided they don't show dangerous gait or balance abnormalities.  I'm to avoid any steep hills either up or down, and also any cantering - it's a faster gait and there are times when only one foot on the ground, so in a horse with potential limb weakness or balance issues, cantering is inadvisable.  I have to be especially careful at certain periods in their treatment when symptoms may worsen due to the organisms being killed off - days 3 to 5 for Drifter and starting at about day 14 for Pie - and should probably avoid riding them at that time.

Sometimes I feel that my karma is to learn about lots of horse diseases, perhaps as punishment for my not having gone to vet school . . .

Monday, October 24, 2011

All Horse, All the Time

Sometimes my family accuses me of having a life that is All Horse, All the Time.  They do have a point, although I do have other interests and activities.  But Horse is pretty much the center of my life - feeding, turnout, bring-in, grooming, riding and just plain interacting.  I've recently been trying to cram in as much riding time as possible as the days get shorter and temperatures get colder - with no indoor arena, my riding time at some point will be cut off, at least for Drifter and Dawn.  The trails will be accessible for at least part of the winter, until things become too icy.

So I managed to ride all three horses two days in a row, and in fact have ridden all three on three days out of four, and Pie on the extra day.  Yesterday was the day for interesting/scary things and today we just kept things simple - there was rain overnight so the footing in the arena today wasn't perfect, which put some constraints on what we could do.

Yesterday, Drifter had to cope with the "scary, flapping white plastic bag that someone left on a post in the community garden" right next to the ring.  And Pie had to deal with the "child lying flat on a blanket, kicking his heels", again right next to the ring, in addition to the "black plastic bags covered street lights" on our trail ride with Charisma.  In the arena, I did an "easing up on" routine with both horses - did circles and passes by the scary thing at a distance the horse found comfortable, and then gradually came nearer with each pass.  They both did well - with Drifter, I'm always careful as we turn away from a scary object - that's when he tends to scoot if he's going to.  With a scary object like the garbage bags flapping over the streetlights (this had to do with a neighborhood Halloween celebration involving hay rides and scary tableaus along the trail over the weekend - how many of you encounter street lights on your trail rides, much less street lights covered with flapping garbage bags?), the best approach is just to glance and say to the horse - yeah, I see that and it's nothing to worry about - and just keep on riding down the trail.  Pie can certainly spook (and spin) when he's startled - time and miles will help with that - but once he's seen something, he's not going to spook at it although he may stare and sidle on by keeping an ear on it.  As long as I'm ho-hum about it, he doesn't worry too much.  Dawn and Drifter are both more reactive - if they see something scary, they keep thinking about it, although both are capable of relaxing at least somewhat - Drifter isn't really spooky just lacking in confidence, whereas Dawn is hair-trigger reactive.  I'm happy to let Pie stop and stare at things and think about them - he's not going to spook or spin or bolt at that point - with Dawn, I always keep her mind engaged and her body moving - if she does the "stiff as a board" stare, the spin and bolt are right behind.  Drifter is in-between - he's somewhat spooky, but also curious and willing to investigate things - at this point I let him look at things a little but mostly keep him engaged and moving.

Today, the arena was sloppy, so we kept things simple, and mostly worked on a big oval where the footing was a bit better.  Drifter's job was to move out at the trot and try to stretch down - he's still not quite right when I post on the left-tracking diagonal or sit the trot, whereas he's just fine if I'm posting on the right-tracking diagonal - it's the left hind that's the issue, I think - there's some stiffness or soreness there and although it's very subtle - it's almost impossible to see when he's moving at liberty and although he does warm up out of it to a large degree, he clearly doesn't lift as well when I'm sitting when that foot is on the ground.  He's happy to trot so I'm not too worried about it - I've discovered that a kiss or chirp is a very good secondary cue for him for upwards transitions.  I was very happy with his work today, and he coped well with the (still-flapping) white plastic bag.  At the end we did some nice trot/walk/trot transition work, with only a few step in each gait before the next transition - we did finally manage to keep a nice forward with no falling on the forehand or loss of momentum in the downwards transitions.

With Dawn, we were on the search for the elusive relaxation at the trot.  We trotted and trotted and trotted some more - mostly in the big oval with some changes of direction.  I encouraged her to stretch down without rushing.  It ended up being pretty nice, and I told her so - she wasn't in the "zone" but we were close and it was better than it's been.  It helped her a lot when I worked on sitting up very straight with my head up so as not to weight her forehand. To end up, we "played statue" - I asked her to stand completely still on a loose rein - this is very hard for her as she's Ms. Movement All the Time.  We managed a good long time - I think it was at least 5 minutes - where she did a lot of looking around with ears pricked - there was lots to look at - people working in the community garden, walking by, riding bikes and driving by - but by the end I got a yawn and her eyes started to close.  I praised her effusively and jumped off.

Pie and I worked mostly in the arena today, on basic softening at the walk and trot.  He was moving well and pretty responsive.  We also worked a bit on his tendency to bulge out in the body when tracking left - I think this has something to so with his left hind not pushing as hard - this shows up as well right now in his backing where instead of backing straight, the hindquarters tend to want to end up moving left.  We finished up with some short trail excursions and he stepped out with confidence.

Pie did have another minor digestive attack last night - the first sign is that he stops eating out of his Busy Horse hay feeder and stands with his ears back and eyes partly closed, followed if he's really uncomfortable by lying down and, if he's even worse, groaning.  Our p.m. barn lady saw him lie down in his paddock - outside, not in his shed, during a cold rain no less - and called me.  I asked her to get him up and lead him down to the barn and then observe him in his stall - apparently just that small amount of walking helped the gas to pass and he was fine after that and was able to go back out for the night in his rain sheet.

All horse all the time . . . I'll take that right now.

Feed Analysis

I've done a product evaluation of several possible feeds to use at the barn:  CPI Equi-Balancer - not really a feed as it's a protein/mineral/vitamin balancer pellet (from CPI, now called Landmark, in Wisconsin - I drive up there and pick it up), and Buckeye Safe 'n Easy (pellet, not texturized) and Nutrena Safe Choice (both available from our local feed store).  (At the end I also mention Triple Crown Lite and Low Starch.)

Disclaimer:  I'm not an equine nutritionist, just an amateur.  I know enough to be dangerous - I've tried to learn about the topic and have a general idea of what to look for, but equine nutrition is a complex topic and there are many elements to look at - and you have to look at the whole picture - the whole diet: forage (grass/hay) and feed, the horse's activity level, age and any special factors - HYPP, PSSM, condition of teeth and digestive system, etc.  In my analysis, I was looking at a number of factors - cost per serving (in our case the lowest cost per serving turned out to be the best option nutritionally for our group of horses), what the feed is designed by the manufacturer to achieve, levels of protein, fat and fiber, NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) levels, ratios like copper/zinc and calcium/phosphorus ratios (you'll want a different answer on this depending on whether you feed grass or alfalfa hay), selenium levels - a particular issue for our part of the world, and anything else that sticks out.  In order to do this analysis, you need to know what recommend amounts of the various components are and then analyze feed labels to see what you've got - and learn how to do the conversions between percentages, ppm and grams or milligrams per pound or kilogram - fortunately, Charisma's owner, who is a close student of nutrition, had already done a lot of this preliminary work for me. We were not looking for a complete feed as our horses get plentiful forage - grass and/or grass hay - but if your horse has limited forage or cannot adequately digest forage (poor teeth or age) your answers would likely be very different.  Our horse population ranges in age from 5 to a (lively) 22 and all horses except one are in regular light to moderate work.
All three of the CPI, Buckeye and Nutrena feeds are sold in 50 lb. bags, and the per bag prices are comparable (but as you'll see per bag price doesn't give you the answer due to the per horse per day feeding requirements of the different feeds):

Per bag, including sales tax:

CPI Equi-Balancer:  $17.82
Buckeye Safe 'n Easy:  $15.95
Nutrena Safe Choice:  $15.19

The issue is the amounts of feed needed every day (as recommended by the manufacturers) to get an appropriate daily level of vitamins and minerals.  The recommended feeding amount for CPI Equi-Balancer is one pound per day per horse - or a cost of $.36 per day per horse or $10.80 per month per horse.

The recommended feeding amounts for both the Buckeye and the Nutrena for horses that are inactive or in light work is approximately 5 pounds per day per horse, or a cost of $1.60 per day per horse, and $47.85 per month per horse for the Buckeye and $1.52 per day per horse for the Nutrena.  That said, both the Buckeye and Nutrena feeds assume that more total calories will be provided by grain and less from hay (they assume 16 and 10 pounds of hay per day, versus the 24 pounds a day the vet hospital calculated for Pie) than the CPI feed does, and both the Buckeye and Nutrena feeds provide significant more calories from fat and protein than a daily serving of CPI does - the CPI feed is designed only as a concentrated vitamin/mineral/protein balancer pellet.  (I do not have accurate kcal/serving data but believe it would confirm this, looking at the protein and fat percentages of each of the feeds and using the recommended feeding amounts.)

If you fed the Nutrena and Safe Choice at the recommended amounts per day, you would probably have to reduce your grass/hay feeding to avoid too many calories - but the result of that is that your feed balance would have shifted to more concentrated feeds and away from forage.  If you wanted to continue providing the amount of grass/hay we typically feed, you  would probably have to feed less per day of either feed in order for your horse to not get too many calories,  but the result of this is that, since the vitamin/minerals provided by Nutrena and Safe Choice are significantly lower per pound than the CPI, your horse might not be getting enough of certain minerals and vitamins.

A lot of details - my conclusion is that the CPI Equi-Balancer is a better choice for our horses - it is specially formulated for our selenium-deficient part of the world, does a good job correcting deficiencies in our hay/forage, which we've had analyzed, is lower cost per serving (even if you only fed your horse 2 pounds a day of either the Buckeye or the Nutrena feed - which might provide inadequate vitamins/minerals), and doesn't provide extra calories that many of our horses don't need.  From the barn's point of view, if a horse needs supplemental feed to maintain weight in the winter, rice bran or another feed like Buckeye Ultimate Finish, or beet pulp (although it's a pain to prepare in the winter) can be used for weight gain.

That said, both the Buckeye and Nutrena feeds are good feeds with adequate vitamin/minerals at the recommended feeding levels - including appropriate calcium/phosphorus and copper/zinc ratios, and even adequate selenium per day for our area.  I have reported NSC (non-structural carbohydrates - the rapidly digested type) levels for both - the Buckeye feed is lower - 12.5% (thank you, Buckeye, for putting this information on your site - but be aware that the texturized version of Safe 'n Easy is higher NSC and I did not evaluate it) - versus the Nutrena - 22.8% (a reported number, not confirmed with the manufacturer).  Lower is better for our horse population.

So, I recommended to our barn that we stay on Equi-Balancer and I'm happy to continue driving to CPI to pick up the Equi-Balancer - it's a pretty drive and I only have to go once a month or so.

I subsequently looked as well at Triple Crown Lite (9.3% NSC - thank you, Triple Crown, for putting NSC numbers on your site) and Low Starch (13.5% NSC).  Lite is designed as a vitamin/mineral balancer much like the CPI feed, but the recommended feeding amount is greater - 2 pounds a day - as it provides lower amounts of certain ingredients than the CPI feed does.  But it's also too high in iron for my taste and the selenium levels would also be surprising high, even for our area, at the recommended amounts.  Low Starch is notably low potassium, which can be good for horses that are HYPP expressers or carriers.  It's designed as a complete feed to replace some part of forage that may be of unknown NSC composition - a situation many people at boarding barns have - we are fortunate that we are able to have our hay and grass tested.  The manufacturer does say that this feed is designed for horses that can't maintain weight on the amount of forage they're getting, and does say that if you're feeding less than 6 pounds a day you'll need to supplement minerals.   Neither feed is really suitable for our requirements, but if you had a HYPP or insulin-resistant horse, Low Starch might be a good option for you.

Whew!  I'm tired now . . .

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Beautiful Day With Three Horses, and Huge Wings

Yesterday was really nice, particularly in contrast to the cold, very windy and rainy weather we've been having.  Temperatures crept into the 50sF and there was only a little wind, so I managed to ride all three horses.  It was a day when I kept things simple and mostly just enjoyed the rides.

Drifter was up first.  We worked a lot on his trot, and getting him to really start to stretch down without falling on the forehand.  He was able to concentrate pretty well, so he really offered up some good work.  The slight unevenness behind was still there when we started trotting - mostly on the diagonal tracking left, which confirmed my suspicion that it was the left hind that was the issue - but he worked out of it well so I didn't worry about working him.

Then Pie and I had a good arena session, including quite a bit of trotting.  We're still working on straightness when tracking left - he tends to want to bulge to the outside.  We did some softening work but I was mainly wanting him to move out nicely and stretch a bit, which he did.  We've only restarted our trot work recently, so we didn't work for too long.  And he did fine - no digestive problems - both Thursday and yesterday - mainly I think due to my not overfeeding him with hay.

Dawn and I got in a ride after feeding time.  The sun was getting ready to go down and the shadows were getting long and there was a chill in the air.  She was moderately distracted - looking at lots of things in the distance - there were perked ears a lot of the time.  She was as usual very forward, but was very soft in the bridle.  We continued our search for relaxation at the trot, and we got a few nice moments when she was relaxing while pushing from behind and stretching down a bit.  We did a lot of figure and shortening/lengthening work to help her channel her energies, and did a bit of leg yield at the walk, although if my cue was more than a whisper I got side pass instead.  I didn't do any lateral work at the trot as she was just a bit too reactive after a number of days off.  But riding her today was great fun - she stayed soft and was really carrying herself well from behind - she's a blast (one hopes the good sort of blast instead of the other type!) to ride but you really have to be on your toes.

I feel that I really have to take advantage of these last nice fall days, and we've got more coming up, so I bet there'll be more riding coming up . . .

* * * * * *
And, last night as I was driving to the barn in the dark to check on Pie and give him his bedtime hay, I got to see something wonderful.  A huge pair of wings flew just over my car, barely illuminated by the headlights - it was a Great Horned Owl on the hunt!  We have several breeding pairs in the area, and one of the winter delights - particularly in February when they're breeding - is to hear them in the night calling softly to one another - they like to sit on the roof peaks when they're hunting.  The beauty and delight in the world is truly amazing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Staying Safe On the Ground

There's a very nice post over at Fern Valley Appaloosas about staying safe when working around large animals, and she's got some links to some other blogs that have posted on the same topic.  Here's a follow up post with some of my thoughts on the subject.

I'm going to talk about some things to help us stay safe on the ground - when in the stall with a horse, when leading, when trailer-loading, when grooming and saddling, when doing groundwork, when feeding, when doing turnout and when among loose horses.  Horses are very big and strong and can certainly be unpredictable, and it's possible to be seriously injured and even killed when on the ground.  We can never completely eliminate risk but we can significantly reduce it with some forethought and training (of ourselves and our horses).  No one wants to be hurt - to have their feet stepped on or to be head-butted, bitten, kicked, dragged, knocked into or trampled.

Here's a summary of what I think it takes to stay safe on the ground:

  1. Consistently define your personal space and what it is permissible for your horse to do and not to do around you.
  2. Teach your horse to reliably give to pressure.
  3. Teach your horse to lead well.
  4. Have a plan and build safety into your routines.
  5. Be aware of where you are, what you are doing, what the horse is doing, and most importantly, what the horse is thinking about doing.  Anticipate things before they happen if possible.
  6. Don't be in a hurry.
  7. Try not to do things that are really stupid, even if you can get away with them 9 times out of 10 or 99 times out of 100 - pay attention to that small voice that's saying "this is a really bad idea".

You'll notice that none of these things are really about the horse, they're about us and how we decide to interact with our horses and train them - it's our responsibility to create the conditions for safety.  We can't expect the horses to do it for us if we don't give them the leadership and direction they need.

And now some examples and thoughts on these principles for safety.

1.  You need to decide what your ground rules are, and adhere to them - every single time.  How can we expect our horses to consistently maintain a proper distance - for me it's at least an arm's-length - if sometimes we let the horse come closer and sometimes don't?  How can we expect our horses to not try to snatch grass when we're leading if we sometimes allow it?  How can we expect the horse to know it's not OK to rub their head on us, step on our feet or bump into us if we sometimes let them and sometimes don't?  My rule is that I can come closer to the horse if I choose, but the horse can't come closer to me without my explicit permission.  And if you don't want your horse to nip at you, don't ever let it happen without saying something to the horse about it.  Can your horse "just stand around" with you without nudging you or bumping into you or dragging you?  I don't care if the horse wants to move its feet as long as the horse doesn't come into my space (this type of exercise is under the topic of patience and self-calming in the Working Towards Softness sidebar).  One rule I have is that a horse on the lead may never interact with another horse - they can do that when they're loose in the pasture - this avoids things like horses striking when sniffing noses, which can be very dangerous and also avoids being too close to a loose horse.  When I'm among a herd of loose horses - which can be one of the most dangerous situations due to horse on horse aggression - I always carry a 10' lead line that I can use to define a larger personal space and to swing to move horses away - if I'm leading a haltered horse among loose horses, the other horses are not allowed to approach and interact.

2.  That leads to point 2.  In order to define our space, we have to be able to move the horse away.  By "giving to pressure" I mean a variety of things - and the horse should know them all.  It includes the horse backing off due to verbal or hand commands or pressure on the halter.  All my horses know "one step back" - in response to a raised hand, palm out, or gentle pressure on the halter. It includes the horse moving its body away in any direction as a result of soft hand pressure - if I touch my horses on the chest or side, they're to step away.  It includes teaching the horse to softly give to pressure on the halter,  including laterally, downwards and backing (my Working Towards Softness sidebar has some posts including some of this).  Will your horse allow you to touch it most anywhere on its body? When I get to lungeing or ground-driving, I teach "leading by the legs" so a horse won't panic if a line gets tangled (in the lungeing and ground-driving post in the sidebar).  This teaches horses to respond to the cues I use to define my space, and also mean the horse is soft and not braced and pulling when handled on the ground.

3.  Leading - good leading, not the horse dragging or bumping into the handler - is fundamental for me.  Good leading is about defining your personal space and what the rules are, and being consistent about them.  I do a lot of leading, including doing turnout of sometimes excited horses, and trailer loading - which is really just leading - and I want the horse to choose to lead, on a loose lead, in the position I choose at a distance determined by me, and to stop when I stop and go when I go, without pressure on the halter.  If the horse is ahead of me, setting the pace or direction, or there's pressure on the halter, that isn't me leading the horse, that's the horse dragging me.   I've got a series of exercises on leading I do - they're in a couple of posts on the sidebar.  It takes some time and effort to get good leading established, but it's worth it.  And don't ever, ever, coil a rope or line around your hand or any other part of your body, when leading or doing ground work.

4.  Know what you're intending to do and how you're going to do it, and know what you're going to do if things go south in a hurry.  Having safety baked into your routines is good too.  For example, when I turn a horse out, I always turn the horse to face me before taking off the halter - this reduces the chances that I'll be kicked or run over on departure - although I do sometimes get splattered with mud!  When leading a haltered horse among loose horses I'm my horse's "protection" and it's my job to be sure no other horse is permitted to approach and possibly bite or kick - this keeps both me and my horse on the lead safe.  What are you going to do if another horse approaches with ill intent? If you're trailer loading, be sure your leading and giving to pressure are established first.  Being in a trailer with a horse is one of the most dangerous places there is - you're in close quarters - be sure you know what your plan is - and what your escape route is if you need it.  For this reason, I wear a helmet when training trailer loading.  If your horse takes off on the lunge line, what are you going to do?  Feeding time can be particularly hazardous - make sure you have rules - if you want your horse to step away from the feed bin, teach the horse to do it; if you want the herd to back off and wait for feed to be distributed, teach that.  (Horses with dangerous food aggression issues are a whole different topic - they may have ulcers or have been starved or had to fight for food.)

5.  Being aware is really fundamental.  Know where you are, where the horse(s) are, and learn to read your horse(s) - problems don't arise out of nowhere and there are usually warning signs that something's about to happen.  If you're talking on the phone, talking to your friends or texting, you're not aware. If you're going to be doing things out among loose horses, spend time observing the herd and how they interact and what their signals to one another are - they're often very subtle.  Know the herd order and how aggressive the various horses are likely to be to one another - it may affect what you do - extra care may need to be taken when leading a low-ranking horse while an aggressive higher-ranking horse is loose nearby.  If something's about to happen, don't let the thought turn into action - get ahead of it by providing some leadership and direction - if you're just reacting you're already behind the curve.

6.  A very large percentage of accidents on the ground with horses, in my personal experience, are caused by a combination of being in a hurry, or changing a routine in a way that reduces its safety (often because you're in a hurry).  Don't let other people rush you either - the only time I've (so far) been seriously injured on the ground, another boarder was in a hurry to turn her horses out and I was in the barn aisle and let myself be rushed - see point 7.

7.  Don't be stupid - this often happens together with number 6.  This may seem self-evident, but even experienced horse people make this mistake - "I'll do this just once", "I'll get away with it this time", etc.  Listen to that internal voice that says "you shouldn't be doing this . . ."  Sure you may get away with it once, or many times, but is the risk really worth it?  And, if you have a mare that tends to double-barrel kick when she's in heat, don't ever, ever, ever, pick her hind feet while she's loose in the barn aisle and about to sniff noses with another horse . . .

If you have points to add, or ground safety stories to tell, please feel free to put them in the comments.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's Still Lurking . . .

Whatever's the matter with Pie is still there, lurking under the surface.  This evening, he was in his stall eating hay - it's horribly cold, windy (wind chills in the 30sF) and rainy out, so he's inside for the night - when he stopped eating and started looking uncomfortable - ears pinned, kicking at his belly and threatening to lie down.  Same thing - a little too much hay too fast - and same result - abdominal discomfort.  When I got to the barn in response to a call by our p.m. barn lady, he was just about to lie down - I had him stay up, got his halter on and we marched up and down the barn aisle for a while.  His gums looked fine and he had pooped plenty.  He was pretty alert and responsive and we said hello to a number of the other horses who were in their stalls. I also tied him up and groomed him - he seems to appreciate having his back and hindquarters curried and rubbed when he's uncomfortable.  Then more walking.  He started showing interest in hay again, so I put him in his stall with no hay - he pooped and seemed to be more comfortable and was very alert and interactive -  and left him there for a while - turned off the lights and sat in the office.  He was completely alert and hungry when I came back to check on him a while later.  I gave him only a little bit more hay for the night.

I think being in the stall contributed to the problem - he seems to benefit from being able to move around in his paddock as it helps the gas move on through.  I didn't really think that whatever it is that's wrong had just gone away - it's clearly still there although I think we can manage it for now by being careful with how much hay we feed him how quickly, and making sure to arrange for him to keep moving as much as possible.  Just keeping my fingers crossed every day that he'll be OK . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Windy and Colder With Horses

Today it was cloudy, chilly and windy - wind chills were in the 40sF.  Tomorrow's going to be windier - with gusts to 60mph - and with  rain likely.  I figured that I'd better ride while I could.  I didn't ride Dawn - I usually don't when it's very windy as she can be very unpredictable under those conditions.

The mares and geldings (not including Drifter who's on solo turnout due to his aggressiveness towards Pie) swapped pastures today.  This meant that Drifter could no longer see the mares easily from his pasture - he was beside himself and did lots of running and calling.  He did settle down eventually.  He seems to have virtually no interest in socializing with the two geldings, Pie and Scout, and only views them as rivals for the affections of the mares, whom he seems to adore.

So riding Drifter today presented some challenges - it was cold and windy, he was worried about the new pasture arrangements, and the mares' pasture is now the one adjacent to the arena.  All matters for high levels of distraction.  My objectives with him under these conditions were simple - to establish that we can work (if only a bit) under these conditions so that working just becomes a matter of routine, and to have things go reasonably well - no meltdowns or acting up.  If that meant that all we did was walk, that was fine by me - I was determined to ride the horse I had today and not some imaginary horse that wasn't there.

Drifter was extremely fidgety on the crossties when I was grooming him - it was a sign of the weather and his mood.  We did some leading work in the arena so I could gauge his level of distraction and excitement - he was very distracted and somewhat excited but was able to respond to my asks so I mounted up.  He was fairly tense and desperately wanted to run down to the mares - I could feel his level of tension and didn't want any explosions.  So we did what we were able to do and considered it good - lots of circles and serpentines, some backing, all at the walk.  So long as he was able to walk in a fairly relaxed manner, we walked in a straight line; if another horse screamed, or he was distracted by the mares moving around their pasture and his head popped up, we circled, with no constraint on the outside rein so he wouldn't feel trapped.  I also was careful to keep my legs off him as he was already pretty forward as well as tense.  He managed to hold it together and do everything I asked, although there were a couple of moments when "the horse is thinking about leaving" (to quote one of my sidebar posts) - before that thought could fully form and turn into action, we would circle until he was able to be with me again.  I was proud of him for being able to do that much under such weather and mental conditions.

Then I rode Pie - he was also pretty up due to the weather, but also very responsive.  We rode in the arena and had a nice but not too long session - I'm gradually bringing him back into work.  We did a fair amount of figure work at the walk and trot as well as some backing and turns on the haunches.  He was a very good Pie.

Not too bad for a windy and cold day with horses.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pie Improves and a Few Good Friends

Pie has been doing very well - yesterday he was happy, alert and acting like a young horse should.  He had no mopey episodes as far as I know, and ate eagerly.  He whinnied to me when I got to the barn this morning - it was almost too dark to see, but he someone spotted me from a distance as I walked to the barn.  And there was some good news in his recent blood work - his previously elevated liver enzyme levels are now almost back to normal, which is a good sign.  Keeping fingers crossed . . .

I was thinking today about how fortunate I am to have a few good friends at the barn who have really helped me out, both when I was recovering from my accident in June and July and recently when I was going back and forth to the vet hospital while Pie was there.  I've gotten a lot of help from Charisma's owner with taking care of my horses and anything that needed doing - she volunteered to help out without my even asking.  Our p.m. barn lady has also been great about being willing to help me with things like hoof picking (for weeks) when I couldn't do that, and has kept an eagle eye on Pie for me as well.  Neither of them have been willing to accept any sort of pay back for the help they've given me, although I try to do things for them both when I can.

Charisma's owner has also been very helpful to me while I've been working on regaining my trail riding confidence.  She's glad to go on walking trail rides with Pie and me even though sometimes I'm sure she'd prefer to go faster.  Although I've been able to ride occasionally with other boarders if we're at the barn at the same time and they're willing to accommodate Pie's and my slow pace for at least a little while on their rides, Charisma's owner always tries to let me know when she's riding so that I can ride too if I'm free.  She makes me feel accepted for where I am in my riding journey - I never feel like I'm a burden to her or get in her way.  It's more than I'm entitled to expect, even from friends, but I'm thankful to have friends like these - they've made the hard times easier to deal with.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Norman Spam!

For those of you Norman-the-pony lovers out there, here's some Norman spam courtesy of Melissa and Jason at Paradigm Farms - that's Norman on the left hanging out with a friend:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Watching and Waiting . . .

We'll have the results of Pie's blood work in a day or so, to see if there are any changes, not that that'll necessarily tell us anything.  Sometimes he seems to feel just fine - he's lively in the mornings when I bring him in to feed him and then turn him out to pasture, and he's fine late at night when I come to check on him and bring him his bedtime flake of hay.  But in between, he seems to have his ups and downs.  He's often lackluster in the afternoons, although he perked up quite a bit when I rode him yesterday, and is also a bit discouraged looking in the early evenings, although he's happy to eat his dinner and dinnertime flake of hay - his appetite is very good, and his manure is normal in amount and consistency too.  He seems uncomfortable when he's digesting and to feel pretty good when he's emptier.  He's only had one serious "episode" where the pain was worse in the two weeks since he went to the vet hospital, but whatever the underlying problem is it apparently hasn't gone away.  We're spreading his food out as much as possible and that does seem to help at least a little bit.

All I can do is watch and wait to see how he'll do every day . . .

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pie Update and Working on Lateral

For anyone who wants to know how Pie is doing, he's doing fine since we've been extra careful not to overfeed him hay in the late afternoon and evening - he's had only one "episode" in the time he's been back from the vet hospital.  So long as there's not too much bulk moving through his system, he seems pretty comfortable.  Tomorrow our vet is coming to draw blood to retest, particularly to see if his liver enzyme levels have changed.

I rode Pie today, just at the walk - I was tempted to do some trotting since he seemed to feel pretty good, but didn't - waiting for the results of his blood tests is a good idea.  We did some walking around in the vicinity of the barn, and a little bit of work in the arena using our cones and ground poles.

Drifter seemed a bit sore behind to me today, although not off - he just wasn't using himself well from behind - so although we did some trot work, I kept it on the stretching down, long-and-low side and didn't ask for a lot of transitions or shortening/lengthening, or tight turns.  I think the scrapes on his left hind, which have been healing, may be a bit tight right now.

Dawn and I had an excellent work session today, and made some good progress on her relaxation and lateral work.  One of the hardest things with Dawn is having her accept any leg - with her it's possible to dial your aids down to almost nothing, and if you do more she tends to get fussed.  Simply placing a leg on her side, without more, can get her to make a big move - with her you almost have to think your aids rather than do them.  She's a great teacher of keeping your body, posture and breathing quiet and intentional and soft - she's my guru.  I was able to get her to do some standing around on a loose rein between trot sets, which is hard for her - she always wants to be in motion.  She also had moments of relaxation, and we were able to do some stretching down at the trot.  The relaxation wasn't consistent, but it did keep coming and going, so it's available, and when it's there she's soft in the bridle and really using herself well.

We did some really nice lateral work, including doing some shoulder in around turns and on circles, spiraling out - two-tracking so her shoulders were to the inside of her hindquarters, which made a larger circle - her hindquarters were really active and she was allowing me to lay a leg on her inside barrel, while "stepping" out with my own feet (mentally more than physically although I'm always careful to weight my outside stirrup to get the "out").  I was really pleased with how she did.

We've got a weather change coming up, so the run of beautiful October days we've been having may be coming to an end.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Slow Horsemanship

You may have heard of the Slow Food movement - the idea that real food, prepared with real ingredients, with a focus on the pleasure of the preparation and the eating, is better for us - our health and happiness - than convenience and speed.

I'm trying to practice Slow Horsemanship - the same idea, really, using careful, slow methods - paying lots of attention to the "ingredients" - my horse and my interactions with the horse and the horse's responses - without gimmicks, gadgets or artificial deadlines that get in the way of doing things with care and softness.  Learning takes places in the spaces as much as in the doing, I've found - the horse and I need time to process what is being asked of us, to understand and to respond.

Many problems in working with horses, and most of the abuses that occur in the horse world, would be avoided if Slow Horsemanship were used - if people weren't in a hurry, and didn't want quick results.  Haste does indeed lead to waste, and haste is the parent of impatience and anger.

One of the things I've noticed is that when you watch really great horsemen and women work, there's no flash or show - sometimes it's just like watching paint dry and things tend to be very quiet and low key - but real work is taking place.  Once in a while there's a big move by horse or rider - but only when necessary and it's mostly over before you hardly have time to notice.  The best horsemen and women get the best from their horses because they seek partnership and provide leadership, not dominance. That's my ideal.  There are good horsemen and women out there in all disciplines.  I've been fortunate enough to work with Mark Rashid on a number of occasions, and I try to remember some of his principles, including that "horses don't wear watches."  I also always remember the story he told this year about the horse he was riding at the clinic - how he and his wife only rode the horse at the walk for 9 months because the horse wasn't ready mentally until that point to do more - it took that long and that was OK.  That's why Mark no longer does colt starting in clinics - the artificial time constraints don't respect the needs of specific horses and how their training should progress.

Another thing I like about Slow Horsemanship is that it allows me to build a solid foundation, where any gaps in the horse's knowledge are addressed and filled in before we proceed to the next step.  I think a solid foundation gives both the horse and me confidence as we try new things together.  And the foundation is more about things like attention (to one another), patience and self-calming, relaxation, softness and shaping time and space together than it is about the specifics of what the horse is trained to do - I think if the foundation is there the horse can be trained to do all sorts of things.

Progress is so incremental that I hardly notice it myself - sometimes I wonder if I'm getting anywhere but then I look back and see how far we've come - each horse in his or her own way on his or her own path.

Slow Horsemanship . . . I like the sound and feel of that . . .

Three-peat and Worried About Pie

Yesterday was glorious again, and once again I rode all three horses. Due to the holiday weekend there were lots of people, bikes and dogs out and around, and it was also somewhat windy.

Dawn was good, although never completely relaxed.  We did some good work, including some very nice spiral out and leg yield work at the trot.  We're still searching for relaxation, and we'll get there - she needs to be in consistent work again.

Drifter was very up - there was a big piece of plastic that a community gardener had put over their tomato plants that had come partly loose and was doing its best imitation of a sail, and the goat had visitors, but Drifter held it together and we did some nice work, including some work on him moving off my leg to the side - his turn on the haunches is pretty nice and his leg yield/spiral out work is coming along although he struggles when we're bent to the right.  We didn't canter since I wasn't getting enough relaxation or consistent attention at the trot.

Then Pie and I had a nice 40-minute walking trail ride with Charisma involving various excitements - a motorcycle starting up right near us, children playing badminton in their yard and another child on a swing, although with various other things - running children, bikes and lots of shrieking children as well.  Pie was reasonably forward and was able to keep up with Charisma pretty well, but he was a bit "punky" later in the evening - the first time in over 10 days.

I had of course been hoping against hope that whatever was the matter with Pie had just gone away, but it hasn't.  Our p.m. barn lady texted me about 7:30 p.m. to say that he was standing in his paddock, not eating and looking uncomfortable - not his normal evening self.  When I got over there a bit later, he was lying down on his mat.  He wasn't groaning but his breathing was a bit labored - he clearly hurt and had that "far away" look horses get where they're preoccupied by how they feel.  But he was fairly responsive to me, which meant that although he was hurting it wasn't as bad as he'd been on some previous occasions.  I sat down on the ground by him for a while.  Then he started to pass some gas, so I thought walking around might help.  I got his halter and he willingly got to his feet and we marched around his paddock in the moonlight for a while.  That seemed to help and when I left him he seemed more comfortable.

I came back later to check on him and he was nibbling the scant grass in his paddock - a good sign.  He'd snarfed up 3 flakes of hay in a couple of hours that evening, and it's clear that that much hay in that short a time creates a backup somewhere in his system - hence the discomfort and gas.  His digestive system clearly has limited capacity, so I'll be trying to spread his evening hay out a bit more to see if that makes him more comfortable.

This morning he was his normal cheerful self and went out happily to the pasture after breakfast.  I spent some time later in the morning just hanging out with him in the pasture while he grazed.  He gets blood drawn again on Wednesday so we can see how his liver is doing.  For now, he's pretty happy most of the time and that's a good thing.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pie Plus Two

We've been having a beautiful October so far - today it was in the low 80sF with some wind and sun - just gorgeous with the trees changing color.  I rode for the 5th day in a row, and today I rode all three horses.

Dawn was up first.  I haven't ridden her much recently, but she was very good, and as always very forward.  We didn't work too hard as she's somewhat out of shape, but did a lot of stretching down at walk and trot, some lengthening and shortening of trot and also some spiral in/out work.

Then it was Drifter's turn.  He'd had yesterday off, and I was interested to see how he'd do.  He'd already been doing some self-exercising when I got there - he was hot and sweaty from running in his pasture, probably because Dawn was out of sight - apparently he sometimes does some running in the afternoon.  He was unusually obsessed with Dawn today, doing lots of calling every time she appeared and screaming when she was out of sight in the barn.

But Drifter was very good when I rode him.  We started out just standing around in the arena - one of the community gardeners had just dragged a plastic box over to his garden to do some harvesting, and I wanted the box to complete its trip back to the gardener's car before I mounted up - it made a very loud noise when dragged on the gravel path.  So Drifter and I used the opportunity to just stand there together on a loose lead.  He was very relaxed about it and didn't fidget at all.  When the gardener dragged his box back, Drift watched it go down the grassy side of the arena - it looked odd but didn't make much noise.  We followed it down towards the other end. Then the gardener got to the gravel path and the noise got very loud.  Drifter's head came up and his eyes got very large, but he didn't move a muscle.  I was very proud of him.

Then I mounted up and we had a medium length, intense work session.  We started with some walk work on a loose rein to get him to stretch down and engage behind - he now travels straight when he moves with a proper amount of forward so long as I focus on where we're going, which is a big improvement from when I started riding him where he would veer all over the place.  Then we did a lot of trot work - figures and lengthening/shortening, and transitions - it was all very nice.  Then we moved up to canter -  today we worked on the left lead which is a bit easier for him.  Only one bit of not too serious balking - otherwise his departures were very good and he maintained the canter until I asked him to transition down.  We did this a number of times, and then I halted him and jumped off - I was very pleased with him.

Charisma's owner had showed up and she took a nice 30-minute trail ride with Pie and me.  All we did was walk - I'm bringing him back into work very slowly - but he stepped out nicely and led for the second half of the ride.  We had one startle/spook while he was leading where someone was working bent over in his yard next to the trail - the type where the horse sinks about a foot and the legs splay out - but he didn't spin and moved right on by once he figured out it wasn't something to be scared of - I had the person stand up and speak to us.  Pie's now been pretty much symptom-free for 10 days, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I'm very fortunate to have three fine horses, all of whom are sound at the moment and each of whom presents their own unique combination of talents and things that need work - I feel very fortunate.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Balking at the Canter

Pie and I took a nice long hand walk on the trail today, including watching some windows being installed on a house and lots of children doing children things - running, jumping, etc.  I didn't walk him yesterday, as he seemed to want to rest and nap when he came in from the pasture.  Today he was a little more alert, so we were able to walk.  If he's feeling good tomorrow, we'll do an easy walk ride tomorrow.

Drift and I have ridden three days in a row.  His trot work is going so well - his basic softness is pretty much reliable, his transitions and straightness are improving and his balking on the upwards transitions has gone away as I thought it would - that today we started working on the canter in a more serious way - we've done a bit before but it's time to dive right in.  He no longer canters as an evasion from trotting.  His prior owner didn't canter him - he'd trained her not to canter in a couple of ways that we worked on today.

My objective is to get him to canter consistently and maintain the canter until I ask him to transition down - once he's moving along at the canter, we can work at developing his balance, softness and consistency.  The first thing he does is rush at the canter - we were working on his right lead, which is his more difficult one, and his canter isn't well-developed or balanced yet, but I believe some of the rushing is intentional - his prior owner was intimidated by it and wouldn't canter him as a result.  Even though he was bracing and rushing, I wasn't too worried - we were in the arena and his steering is pretty good now - even if he ran off I would have been able to deal with it, and in fact he didn't - he was just bracing and pulling.

The next thing he would do is try to drop out of the canter when he'd decided he wanted to - usually on a turn - rather than when I asked him to.  And when I would ask him to continue moving out, he would balk - he would slow way down, drop his head and do this crow-hopping, leapy, bucky thing.  He's not sore and it was pure petulance - he didn't want to and had learned he could get out of doing it with these moves.  I would swat him on the shoulder with my crop and keep him moving forward - no stopping allowed.  His moves weren't hard to ride, but would have intimidated his prior owner.  First we worked on getting one turn, and then two turns, and then two times around, in each case with a downwards transition to trot at my request instead of his decision.  As soon as we got that, I halted him, jumped off and praised him.

I think, as with the balking on upwards transitions to the trot, that this type of balking will just disappear as we work so long as I'm consistent about what I ask him to do.  Once he's cantering for more extended periods without breaking, we can start to work on his balance, rhythm and softness.  If it comes along like the trot has, it's going to be good.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pie's Back! and Back In the Saddle Again

Pie and I had an uneventful trip back from Madison yesterday.  Everyone at the vet hospital seemed to really like him - the 4th year vet student in charge of him said that he was a "mellow fellow".   They had him up to a full food ration on the last day, and he didn't colic, so that's a good sign.  He's doing well so far, which is all I can hope for at this point.  They still don't know for sure what was/is wrong with him, although there's a list of likely possibilities, some of which are things that would eventually have poor outcomes.  All we can do for now is keep an eye on him - he may get/stay better or get worse, only time will tell.  I'm just glad to see my Pie face in his paddock and will enjoy every day I get to spend with him.

Today I rode Drift - Pie is supposed to get at least one more day off from riding and Dawn's about to come into heat - every time a gelding walks by her paddock she goes "Eee!" and strikes with a front foot and swishes her tail.  It's been about 10 days since my last ride - we had constant heavy rain the last week of September and then we had Pie's repeated colics and trip to the vet hospital to deal with.  For a horse that'd had a vacation, Drift was very good, although as I was leading him around setting up cones and poles I had to have a conversation with him about not putting the lead rope in his mouth - apparently his prior owner thought this behavior was cute and it crops back up from time to time.  He somehow managed a couple of days ago to scrape up the whole inside of his left hind, from hock down to pastern, but it was looking pretty clean and he was sound so he was good to go.  We think he may have rolled in his paddock - he often rolls all the way over - and gotten a leg through the board fence - it looked like that sort of scrape. We did lots of figure work and there wasn't a single balk on our upwards transitions, which was a first.  We also worked on activating his hind end - halt to trot and backing to trot transitions.

If Pie's continuing to feel well tomorrow, we may take a little hand walk on the trail, and then if all continues to go well, we'll take a short ride the day after.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pie's Coming Home Tomorrow!

I'm excited to report that Pie is coming home tomorrow - I'm picking him up around noon.  He's had no colic episodes and is doing well, despite getting a lot more hay today.  That's a good sign for the future.  They are going to recommend some changes in his feeding schedule, to spread out his afternoon and evening hay and to slow down his eating.  I'm also planning on using a Busy Horse feeder in his paddock and stall to help slow him down a bit - with luck this will do the trick.  I haven't seen him for two days, miss him terribly, and can't wait to see him tomorrow!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

No News Is Good News

I didn't go up to Madison today to visit Pie, as I'm worn out from all the driving and had things to take care of at home - today they're starting to increase his feed and will do so again tomorrow - right now he's still not getting very much to eat.  By the end of tomorrow, he will be at the full hay ration (26 pounds a day, calculated by the vet students and approved by the vet) plus pellets that they think he needs.  So far - since he's been up there on Thursday - he hasn't had another colic attack.  This is good news in a way.  In a way it's frustrating, since the vets haven't been able to observe him when he's having an attack.  But it's also good - the vets say he's the picture of good health.  If he doesn't colic again,  he'll be coming home on Monday.

But he'll be coming home without a definitive diagnosis.  We know a lot of things he doesn't have - he doesn't have sand colic (they tested for that), he doesn't have primary liver disease, he has no masses in his liver or spleen, his GI tract is completely normal as far as they can determine.  They don't think he has ulcers - he doesn't present like a horse with ulcers and they've decided he doesn't need to be scoped. He does have these multiple masses inside his abdominal cavity and outside his GI tract, but we have no idea what they are, or even how many of them there actually are.  They aren't fatty lipomas - the shape is wrong - and there's no overt constriction of his abdominal tract. They probably aren't bastard strangles or any other infectious process, since his blood work and abdominal tap were unremarkable (although we're still expecting culture results, the vets don't expect anything).  They aren't certain types of cancers that shed lots of cells into the abdominal space - those would have been picked up in the pathology analysis of the abdominal fluid.  They could still be some other type of cancer, and that can't be ruled out.  A biopsy or laparoscopic or other more invasive surgical examination isn't warranted at this time because of the risks of complications and the fact that he's not that ill.

So there we are.  We'll see how he does over the next day or so, and then follow the vet's recommendations for the amount and timing of feeding him and see how he does.  That's what we can do, so that's what we'll do, and we'll live our lives like horses do - experiencing and enjoying every moment we're given to its fullest - that's all any of us can do.